If you get heartburn, you know the feeling well: a slight hiccup and then a burning sensation in your chest and throat. It could’ve been something you ate, particularly any spicy, fatty, or acidic foods: the jalapeño nachos with extra salsa or the deep fried onion rings maybe weren’t the best idea. Or perhaps you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a chronic condition. Whatever caused it, you’ve now got discomfort and an upset stomach. What can you do when heartburn strikes?
Heartburn happens because the contents of your stomach are going back up into your esophagus, where the stomach acids burn the tissues. You could be having an episode of heartburn because tight clothing is binding your stomach. If that’s the case, the first thing to do is loosen your belt — or your dress, or apron strings, or whatever else is holding you too tight.
Your posture might be contributing to heartburn, so if you’re sitting or lying down, try standing up. If you’re already standing, try standing up more straightly. “When you’re slumped down, your internal organs are compressed,” says Betsy Polatin. She’s a movement specialist who works with performers. “A simple and effective solution may be to lengthen and widen your torso and spine, as your head gently moves toward the ceiling.”
If you’re lying down and can’t get up, or if you’re caring for someone who is confined to bed and is experiencing heartburn, try raising the upper body. According to the Mayo Clinic, lifting the head isn’t enough, so don’t add a pillow. The goal is elevation from the waist up. An adjustable bed that can be raised to a suitable angle can provide relief. If your bed doesn’t do that, you can increase the angle by using a wedge pillow.
You might have a heartburn remedy right in your kitchen. Baking soda will calm some heartburn. It works by neutralizing the stomach acid. Dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink slowly (drink everything slowly when you have heartburn).
Chewing gum could help neutralize acid, too. Dr. Atif Iqbal, medical director of the MemorialCare Digestive Care Center at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, recommends it. “Gum increases saliva,” says Dr. Iqbal. “Any acid that has built up in the gut is diluted and washed away or cleared out more quickly.”
You already know you shouldn’t be smoking (and that smoking can contribute to heartburn), but if you’re a smoker and you get an attack of heartburn, don’t light up. Sure, smoking can be a form of coping when you’re uncomfortable, but it’s not going to make that burning feeling go away.
There are plenty of heartburn remedies you can reach for at just about any pharmacy or grocery store. These medicines come in three classes: antacids, H2 blockers, and protein pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs block acid production. H2 blockers reduce how much acid your stomach makes. H2s are usually used for preventing heartburn, but they can also help with symptoms. Antacids neutralize stomach acid.
If you experience heartburn regularly, you’ve probably heard all of the prevention tips:
- eat at least three hours before bedtime
- don’t lie down after eating
- avoid triggering foods like fatty and spicy foods
- keep a healthy weight
If you have heartburn more than two or three times a week, talk to your doctor.